A Gambeson Pattern for Byzantine Re-enactment
Peter Beatson (NVG Miklagard)
I made this gambeson (Figure 1) in 1997. I designed it to go under armour, and with a seperate padded gorget I also wear it for combat archery . I wanted to avoid weak spots and bulky seams under the armpits, so I came up with pointed side panels that fit into the arm seam to cover that area. That wasnt inspired by any period sources - but more recently a description of an Early or Middle Byzantine shirt found in the Manazan Caves near Karaman, Turkey has been published  which has the same underarm construction! Just shows that good ideas dont go out of fashion...
Figure 1- Gambeson. Front view, partially exploded.
I used a heavy handwoven Indian cotton (technically, a warp-faced tabby) for the outside layer, lighter cotton for the lining, and a double layer of removalists felt for padding (that's firm felt made of cotton waste, about 6 mm thick). Dont release the authenticity hounds yet! Cotton (bambax) is frequently mentioned in tenth century Byzantine military manuals . So might this quilted armour be called a bambakion? . If youre reenacting Western Europe, you might want to substitute linen- and wool- based materials though.
Figure 2 - Cutting guide for gambeson (measurements to suit person 180 cm tall weighing 75 kg).
Though this armour is a pullover design, it could easily be converted to a front opening coat style - the side panels might be widened slightly to give the necessary 5 cm overlap. A small standing collar could be added. The width of the body could be reduced and side panels increased to give a result like this recent Sudanese armour (arms would also have to be lengthened accordingly).
 A pseudo-sport associated with medieval reenactment, something like paintball with bows and arrows. PB.
 Timothy Dawson (2003), Concerning an unrecognised tunic from Eastern Anatolia Byzantion 73(1), p.201-210.
 Cotton used in cloth armours: Anon., Sylloge Taktikon, §38,4 and §39,1; Emperor Nikephoros Phokas (attrib.), Stratigike Ekthesis kai Syntaxis (Praecepta Militaria), §1,3 and §3,4; Nikephoros Ouranos, Taktika, §56,3 and §60,4. Cotton among fibres to be stockpiled in a beseiged city: Anon., untitled (De Obsidione Toleranda), §19. Ref - John Teall (1977), Byzantine urbanism in the military handbooks. In: H.A. Miskamin, D. Herlihy, and A.L. Udovitch (eds.) The Medieval City, Yale University: New Haven, p.201-205.
 Might it not! Does the bambakion actually exist? According to Heath, a bambakion is a padded coat with a hood, a theory taken up and repeated ever since. I have been unable to find a primary source that agrees with this. In Praecepta Militaria, both the kavadion (§1,3) and epilorikon (§3,4) can be made of cotton - for both the description includes bambakion kai koukoulion, which is translated by McGeer as of cotton or coarse silk. Kolias reading agrees with McGeer, and he notes koukoulion can mean cowl or hood - one wonders whether Heath read the same passages as hood for silk, and a type of garment for cotton fabric? PB.
Ian Heath, Byzantine Armies 886-1118 (Man-at-Arms no.89), Osprey: London 1979. Eric McGeer, Sowing the Dragons Teeth, Dumbarton Oaks: Washington DC 1995. Taxiarchis Kolias, Byzantinische Waffen, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften: Vienna 1988.
 From the New Varangian Guard Inc. Combat Rules and Safety Standards (Australia, 1995-), section 2.4.0 Gambeson:
- 2.4.1 A gambeson is recommended basic armour.
- 2.4.2 When a gambeson is worn without other armour it must be as least protect the groin area, the torso, the points of the shoulders and the armpit areas.
- 2.4.3 A gambeson must be padded to a minimum of 12 mm thick on the body and 6 mm on the arms in its uncompressed state and must be capable of being compressed.
- 2.4.4 The addition of a padded collar on a gambeson is highly recommended.
- 2.4.5 Other padded armour must conform to the above specifications.
 Okay, now you can release the hounds. PB.
 Peter Raftos (2002), Two representations of Byzantine quilted armour in the Tokali Kilise Varangian Voice 61, p.6-9.
 Timothy Dawson (2002), Suntagma Hoplôn: the equipment of regular Byzantine troops, c.950 to c.1204. In: D. Nicolle (ed.) Companion to Medieval Arms and Armour, Boydell: Woodbridge, p.81-90. In Central Europe there are a few crude depictions of warriors wearing a vertically striped garment in Baltic and Slavic artworks of the Viking age, and from the 12th century onward there are representations of any number of vertically quilted armours, the most celebrated collection being the Maciejowski Bible, French c.1250AD. See - Steven Baker (1997), A survey of the cloth armours depicted in the Maciejowski Bible Varangian Voice 42, p.16-21. PB.
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Peter Beatson, 2007. All rights reserved by the author.
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